Minister of State Joseph Harmon defended the Government’s decision to review a 17-year-old oil exploration licence with U.S. oil and gas exploration company ExxonMobil, after Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo questioned the rationale behind the review and how Guyana stands to benefit.
Jagdeo, a former President and Finance Minister, told a news conference on Wednesday that he was concerned about what this review entails in the absence of any concrete reasons put forward by Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, who made the announcement.
Jagdeo said there are a number of key questions that needed to be answered by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration regarding the review, including Trotman’s statement that this is in an effort to “get closer to ExxonMobil.”
“Does this mean that they are going to give out more concession to ExxonMobil? What does this review means? Who is going to oversee this? Do we have international lawyers who have dealt with the large companies like ExxonMobil, who will have hundreds of lawyers on their side that are well versed in petroleum law, etc? Do we have advisors that can advise on best practices in contracts etc?”Jagdeo asked, adding that “My fear is that the answer is no.”
The trained Economist said he was fearful of Trotman’s involvement in the negotiations, since the Minister lacks the technical and other expertise to negotiate a proper agreement.
“We have a mediocre Minister who will get some advice from a few people surrounding him and we will enter into negotiations with ExxonMobil with a view to getting closer to them and then the country will face the consequences in the future,” Jagdeo stated.
He said he is always concerned when Ministers get too involved with negotiations with oil companies, pointing out that this is precisely one of the reasons why the world is pushing so hard for full implementation and adherence to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), so as to ensure that politicians are somewhat barred from negotiations of terms with companies, thus preventing accusations of corruption or selling out of national interests.
The former President, under whose presidency ExxonMobil was granted an exploration licence, has warned that any bad agreement entered into with the oil exploration company will be reviewed once his party is returned to power.
“Let me make it clear that any bad agreement with ExxonMobil that would harm our national interest, the [People’s Progressive Party] PPP will have to review once it gets back into power, because this would last us for generations into the future because we can’t allow one Minister who is unprepared and incompetent to sell out national interest and possibilities of billions of dollars in future, because they want to get closer to the oil company,” Jagdeo warned.
However, Minister Harmon in response to the Opposition Leader said that the review of the contract is within the Government’s right and is aimed at deriving greater benefits from the oil sector for Guyanese.
“It is our right as a sovereign nation to review any contract which had been entered into by the previous administration. We have a right to review things. In fact, in reviewing the contract, we will find that much more significant benefits will accrue to the People of Guyana as opposed to that which was negotiated by the previous Administration,” Harmon told a post-Cabinet news conference on Thursday.
Responding to Jagdeo’s allegations that Trotman wants to “sell out national interest”, Harmon said the Natural Resources Minister is not acting on his own accord, but is part of a process of the Government, thus, whatever he negotiates must be sanctioned by Cabinet and the Government as a whole.
“Minister Trotman is part of a Government and a part of Cabinet, therefore whatever he negotiates, the Cabinet would look at it and give its comments and so on, before any decision is made, so for Mr Jagdeo to say Trotman is selling out Guyana and stuff, that mindset is because that is what he was accustomed to doing, that he’s now thinking that because all of these things are now being put into the public domain, that is Trotman doing it, so he sees Trotman as a target,” he claimed.
ExxonMobil has been exploring for oil off shore Guyana since 1999 and in 2015, announced that there was a major deposit in the Stabroek Block Off-shore Guyana.
Further, from a second well, the US-based oil and gas exploration company on Thursday announced that it found another deposit with between 800 million and 1.4 billion oil-equivalent barrels.